What does the Bible say about sleep? This is an important question considering that anywhere from one-third of our life will be spent on earth with our eyes closed, slumbering away in our beds. That’s a lot of time sleeping! So what does God think about sleep? Can we sleep too much, too little, and how can we use sleep the way God intended?
Sleep, like everything else God has made, is good when it’s used right but also has the potential to be greatly misused.
The Bible Says Sleep Is Good
Everything God created in the beginning was deemed good. When God made Adam and Eve, he designed them with the need and capability of sleep. Sleep, therefore, should never be seen as an evil thing. The problems arise in our use of sleep. Right from the beginning God ordained sleep as good by causing Adam to go to sleep. Anything God causes is always good.
But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:20-22)
Now certainly I’m stretching the context of Genesis 2:20-22. This is not a passage meant to highlight the importance of sleep. Rather these verses highlight God’s power to create humans in his image. But sleep, nonetheless, was a part of this amazing scene which reveals the beginning of human origins.
Perhaps we can infer, therefore, that sleep is time for the sovereign God to reign and produce good without any involvement of humans. Perhaps God has designed sleep within the framework of humanity to be a daily reminder of our dependence upon God. From the beginning, the Bible teaches us that human life was produced when man was sleeping. God produced good for humans while we were adding nothing to the equation, and therefore it is safe to conclude that God will continue this pattern.
When we sleep, we allow our bodies to reenergize, heal, and prepare for the good works God has planned for us for the following day. Like Genesis 2:20-22 shows us, good things happen when we sleep.
However, sin can corrupt everything good God has made, including sleep. When sleep is turned sinful, the Bible calls it laziness or slothfulness.
The Bible Says You Can Sleep Too Much
The Bible never says sleep in itself is bad. However, the Bible says a lot about misusing sleep in sinful ways. Sleeping too much is the most common problem mentioned in the Bible.
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.” (Proverbs 20:13)
“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11)
The Bible Says You Can Sleep At the Wrong Time
The Bible not only talks about sleeping too much, which is a sin. The Bible also says we can sleep at the wrong times, slumbering in place of doing very important things.
If, for example, you are only sleeping three hours a day, you obviously are not sleeping too much. But if you stay up until 4am every night, sleep until 7am every morning, and thus never have time to pray and read your Bible before you leave for work at 7:05am, this is a problem. Or if you don’t sleep at home but rather sleep while you are on the clock at work, this is stealing from your employer who is paying you to work. In examples like these, the issue would not be sleeping too much but sleeping at the wrong time.
Perhaps the best example of sleeping at the wrong time is found in the gospels just before Jesus’ death when he and the disciples are in the garden of Gethsemane.
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:40-46)
Notice Jesus did not condemn them for sleeping too much but for sleeping at the wrong time. This was not the time to sleep. This was the time to watch and pray in preparation for the trials ahead. Jesus said, “Sleep and take your rest later on” (Matthew 26:45). There’s a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
While sleeping in place of physically working is definitely condemned in the Bible, perhaps what is even more hurtful to ourselves is when we sleep in place of prayer. Jesus told Peter that instead of sleeping too much and at that specific time, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Maybe you don’t have an anger problem, a lust problem, a greed problem, a loneliness problem, a marriage problem, or a parenting problem. Perhaps the real problem is that we gloss over Matthew 26:41 and don’t take it seriously. The key to not falling into temptation, any temptation, is to watch and pray. As overly simplistic as that sounds, that what Jesus has clearly said. The flesh is weak, so although we must sleep in submission to God and his design, we must also realize our flesh is so weak no solution focused in our bodies is going to help us overcome the temptations that plague us.
The spirit is willing, therefore we must take care of our spirits in prayer. When we watch and pray, it fuels our spirits to control our bodies and overcome any temptation or problem that might be in our lives. The Bible says sleep is important, but prayer is more important. You might not be sleeping too much, but if you’re sleeping when you should be praying and spending time with God, you are sleeping at the wrong time.
So here’s a helpful tip if you find yourself sleeping when you should be praying and reading God’s word: Sometimes the problem is not that you can’t get up early but rather that you aren’t going to bed early. You need sleep. Maybe you are sleeping the right amount. But perhaps the bigger problem is that you are sleeping at the wrong times.
I know all this seems painfully obvious. But so often we stay up late on our phones or watching TV and wonder why we just can’t seem to wake up in the morning. Waking up may not be the problem. Going to bed and falling asleep on time is often the real issue. Thankfully the Bible also talks about how to fall asleep quickly and how to get good rest.
The Bible Says Sleeping Is the Result of Faith and Trust in God
Put simply, the more you trust God, the less anxiety and restless thoughts you will have, and thus the easier you will be able to fall asleep.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)
It doesn’t take a polysomnographic technologist performing a sleep test to determine why most humans struggle getting a good night’s rest. Sleep evades the restless mind. When we are anxious, worrisome, and feel that our world turns because we wake up and make it turn with our hard work, is it any wonder why we find it difficult to fall asleep?
How quickly we fall asleep is often a good gauge on how much we trust God. I remember when an older, wiser pastor said from the pulpit, “I work two shifts and I give God the third shift.” His point was not that he doesn’t trust God during the day. The point was that God is powerful enough to handle everything while you sleep.
Mark 4 is a chapter that talks a lot about faith. The chapter ends with the disciples and Jesus in a furious storm threatening to sink their boat. The crazy part is that Jesus was asleep in the stern (Mark 4:38). When the disciples finally woke him, he wasn’t upset that he wasn’t able to sleep. He was upset that they had begun to worry and doubted his love for them. He questioned them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Jesus could sleep and be at ease when everyone else was panicking because he had faith. Faith is the key to a good night’s rest. Jesus often prayed when everyone else was sleeping (Mark 1:35). Because Jesus often prayed when everyone else was asleep, this allowed him to sleep when everyone else was in panic.
So What Does the Bible Say About Sleep?
The Bible says sleep is good; but the Bible also says we can sleep too much and at the wrong time. There’s a time to sleep eight hours and then there’s a time to sleep three hours. It all depends on the situation. We must learn to sleep at the right times, take care of business at the right times, and pray all the time. Lastly, sound sleep is the result of soundly believing in God and his love for you.